The similarities between heterosexual and homosexual abusive relationships are greater than the differences. Research suggests that lesbians and gays are affected by domestic violence at rates similar to heterosexual women, with psychological violence as the most common form of abuse. Power dynamics, the cyclical nature of abuse and the escalation of abuse over time, are other aspects of intimate partner violence that are similar to what happens in heterosexual couples (Dickens, 2014). In particular, studies show that, even between partners of the same sex, the violence follows a cyclical pattern where every violent incident is followed by what is referred to as a ‘honeymoon’ phase, during which there is no violence and the perpetrator encourage the victim to believe that the abuse will end (Jeffries and Ball, 2008). Unfortunately, contrary to the promises of the violent partner, with time the violence will increase in frequency and intensity.
However, despite the many similarities, there are some unique factors that influence domestic violence in lesbian and gay couples.
Perhaps, the most important element is represented by social homophobia. Sexual minorities are absorbed in a social context that is characterized by adverse and hostile attitudes to homosexuality. For this reason, many lesbians and gays decide to hide their homosexuality to avoid the negative consequences that could result from disclosure of their sexual orientation. This could strongly influence the ability of a homosexual victim to take distances from the violent partner. In fact, lesbians and gays who are less out may be reluctant to seek help for problems associated with domestic violence because they may be frightened by the possibility of being forced, denouncing their aggressor, to declare their homosexuality. Moreover, the violent partners often use social homophobia as a tool to abuse their victims, for example they threaten them to reveal the victim’s sexual orientation to employers, friends and family members.
Finally, because of social homophobia, many homosexuals do not attend the gay community in an attempt to keep their homosexuality secret. The consequence is that they do not know other gays and lesbians with which compare their couple problems and they do not know other homosexual couples that could become good role models. This could cause the lack of confidence in what behaviors are acceptable in intimate same sex relationships and, in some cases, the victims could think that the violence is the norm in a relationship that is socially defined as pathological and deviant.
Living in a society that promotes a vision opposed to homosexuality creates a situation for which women and men in same-sex relationships feel that their partner is their only source of support. This strongly influences same sex battering because, especially if the victims do not come out as homosexuals and if they are very afraid about how others might react to the discovery of their homosexuality, they could believe that they have not other options than to stay with their abuser, making them more ready to tolerate abuse from their partner (Balsam and Szymanski, 2005).
The second element that could influence same sex battering is represented by internalized homophobia. The expression “internalized homophobia” refers to the presence, in gays and lesbians, of negative attitudes concerning homosexuality. In other words, gays and lesbians learn the negative social vision of homosexuality and they refer it to themselves. So, for example, they think that, because of their homosexuality, they are wrong and psychologically sick. Obviously, not all homosexuals are characterized by high levels of internalized homophobia, but the constant exposure to social messages that condemn homosexuality leads many of them to consider their sexual orientation in negative terms. This especially happens in the early stages, when gays and lesbians become aware of their homosexuality.
Internalized homophobia could be related to domestic violence. In fact, gays and lesbians who think that their homosexuality is wrong and that their homosexual relationship is pathological, could believe that the abuse is a normal occurrence in same sex couples, attributing the violence to homosexuality rather than the psychological problems of that particular partner. In other words, because of the negative feelings that the victims could have toward themselves and their homosexuality, they could justify the violent behaviors of the partner and, similarly, the perpetrator may use the victim’s internalized homophobia to justify his own violence (Balsam and Szymanski, 2005). So, internalized homophobia interferes with the ability of the victims to recognize the violence that occurs in their couple relationship and with their motivation to seeking help.
In conclusion, it is clear that it is essential to consider how social and internalized homophobia affects the dynamics of a homosexual couple, also with regard to domestic violence. In fact, understanding these differences is crucial to treating and preventing violence in homosexual couples (Brown, 2008).
Balsam, K. K. & Szymanski, D. M. (2005). Relationship quality and domestic violence in women’s same-sex relationships: the role of minority stress. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 258-269.
Brown, C. (2008). Gender-role implications on same sex intimate partner abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 23, 457-462.
Dickens, E. S. (2014). Community assessment of same-sex survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) in Humboldt County. Retrived June 08, 2015, from http://www2.humboldt.edu/socialwork/degrees/masters-degree-social-work/masters
Jeffries, S. J. & Ball, M. (2008). Male same-sex intimate partner violence: a descriptive review and call for further research. Murdoch University Law Review, Vol. 15(1), 134-179.